Winter 2019 Conservationist

Operation Cooperation

by Scott Meister, Natural Resources

There’s a proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and the same can be said about caring for the county’s nearly 26,000 acres of open spaces. Forest Preserve District staff and volunteers continually work to maintain natural areas and offer fun recreational and educational experiences, but sometimes they need to rely on other organizations for additional expertise, equipment and labor. In the case of natural areas, the Forest Preserve District often partners with government agencies.

Mussel Power

Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of animals in North America. Some species once abundant in DuPage are now at extremely low numbers. But in neighboring counties, these same species are more common. That’s why the Forest Preserve District formalized partnerships with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County and the McHenry County Conservation District in 2017 and 2018 to promote the conservation of these rare aquatic animals.

Since 2012 the Forest Preserve District has been working to raise freshwater mussels at its Urban Stream Research Center at Blackwell Forest Preserve. As a result of its efforts, in 2017 it released 24,377 subadults along 13 miles of the West Branch DuPage River and its tributaries. Now the Forest Preserve District is using staff expertise to help Kane and McHenry employees raise fluted-shell, creeper and other types of mussels at its one-of-a-kind facility for release in local waters.

Help With Habitat

The Forest Preserve District has collaborated with DuPage County Stormwater Management on several projects but has done so most recently on the restoration of 21 acres of wetlands On a regular rotation, state employees visit DuPage forest preserve lakes and rivers, providing their time, knowledge and equipment to perform fish surveys. By using harmless electrical currents to temporarily bring fish to the surface to count and measure, they can estimate the size and number of species in a lake. Data from these surveys helps ecologists understand the overall health of an aquatic ecosystem and can lead to changes in creel regulations (the size and number of sport fish an angler can keep in a day) or generate recommendations to stock certain species or introduce new ones.

Speaking of stocking, the Forest Preserve District also partners with the IDNR to give anglers great fishing opportunities here in DuPage. The IDNR was instrumental in establishing a muskie population at Mallard Lake at Mallard Lake Forest Preserve and releasing smallmouth bass in the West Branch DuPage River. Additionally, each year it adds over 3,000 pounds of rainbow trout to Silver Lake at Blackwell.

Orchid on the Fringe

The federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid grows at fewer than 100 sites across just seven states. To give populations growing in DuPage a greater chance of long-term survival, the Forest Preserve District has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The rare plant is pollinated exclusively by night-flying hawk moths. To supplement the moths’ efforts, ecologists from the two agencies hand-pollinate individual flowers to increase seed production. Through joint efforts like this, it’s hoped this orchid may eventually leave the threatened-species list.

Jewel of an Insect

Scientists estimate Illinois habitats produce an average of just 200 adult Hine’s emerald dragonflies each year. But under valuable leadership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (including a $69,733 grant in 2016), the Forest Preserve District is now helping to raise these federally endangered insects in captivity. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership. The District depends on the USFWS for support, but the USFWS relies on the District for local expertise and for healthy habitats that offer the special set of conditions Hine’s emeralds need to survive.

It starts with the University of South Dakota, which collects Hine’s emerald eggs in the wild and raises any resulting larvae for a year or more before sending them to the Forest Preserve District’s Urban Stream Research Center. (Dragonfly larvae molt several times as they grow and spend the entire time in the water.) After two years at the center, the larvae are ready to transform into adults, and ecologists move them to netted “emergence containers” in a DuPage preserve. There, the insects crawl onto the nets and shed their larval skins. Once their winged adult bodies harden, they’re released into the preserve.

By cooperating with other agencies on projects like these, the Forest Preserve District is able not only to operate more efficiently but also to further its mission by creating healthier environments for all inhabitants of DuPage.